Winter Lights

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

Drive away from the city at night, a couple dozen miles or so, and turn up an empty rural road. Continue until the glow of civilization recedes and the nearest farmstead or outbuilding security beacon fades from view. Then stop the truck. Turn off the lights. And step out into the darkness.

If the skies are clear, the great swath of the Milky Way will unfold overhead. And if there's a moon, a shadowy landscape may appear. But mostly there will be blackness, a void where our vision will not penetrate, and an immense loneliness.

Some folks never meet the night; they spend their lives beneath streetlights or behind headlights and well within the city limits. To them, night must seem like a shadowy time between dusk and the morning alarm. But out here in the country there is true darkness. If you've gone camping in the wilderness or spent a night midwifing a cow on a remote pasture or had your rig break down miles from town, perhaps you have seen it and felt its chill.

There are some nights so dark you can't see your hand in front of your face. There are some nights so dark you'll lose your bearings, mistaking north for south and near for far. There are some nights so dark they penetrate the soul.

Once you've seen this kind of darkness it's easy to appreciate a flashlight, a candle, even a match. The glow of a campfire is like a warm blanket against the cold. The lights of town reassure us that we are not alone. 

It is little wonder that early civilizations devoted so much attention to the heavens and obsessed on figuring out the mechanics of the seasons. Even those of us who live in cities notice the days growing shorter and the night extending its domain. How frightening it must have been to see the darkness and coldness of winter spreading while supplies dwindled.
The lights of the holiday season are an expression of hope amidst darkness, of illumination in the face of blindness. The lights on a Christmas tree, the neon Santa Claus on a storefront, the multi-colored blinking bulbs that outline homes and trees are all plugged into our primal fear of the dark.

Driving back into town, it's hard not to notice the homes decorated most brightly. Like those in other communities, our Chamber of Commerce rewards the residence or business most cleverly or extensively decked out for the holidays. Elves and reindeer dance on front lawns, stars rise to the tops of trees, rooflines sparkle with silver and gold.  Glowing as bright as day, these decorations are a spectacle and a wonder, no matter what your age or background. But they probably shine a little brighter and little warmer for those who have seen the night.

Rural Delivery
Rural Delivery

Commentaries and advice 
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by Michael Hofferber
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